Canada should match donations to more charities for Turkey, Syria earthquake: MPs
By Dylan Robertson
A cross-section of members of Parliament, including at least one Liberal MP, say Ottawa should match donations to more organizations that are responding to devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
The federal government has offered to match up to $10 million in donations to the Canadian Red Cross, which has partners on the ground helping people who are suddenly homeless after last week’s massive earthquake.
“The Red Cross is a great organization, doing great things. The reality, though, is that many Canadians donate to organizations they’re familiar with,” Conservative MP Brad Redekopp said at a House of Commons committee Tuesday.
“For example, many newcomers donate to Islamic Relief, and may not be as comfortable with the Red Cross.”
Redekopp directed his comments to Global Affairs Canada officials who were testifying at the foreign affairs committee about Canada’s response.
Stephen Salewicz, the department’s head of international humanitarian assistance, said the Red Cross seemed like the best choice because it already has a large presence in Turkey.
“We wanted to ensure that Canadian funds were injected immediately into the response of local actors, and to support their efforts,” he testified.
“A lack of a match does not stop Canadians from contributing to those (other) organizations.”
But Conservative, Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat MPs want to see government support expanded to include other groups, saying that matching funds will convince more Canadians to donate.
At least one Liberal MP, Sameer Zuberi, supported the idea of broadening the matching program.
He asked officials to be mindful of the issue, saying it keeps coming up.
“That was also an issue that was also noted during the Pakistan flood relief. Many (non-governmental) organizations and relief organizations were also (asking) why weren’t they included,” he said, referring to a different donation-matching program last fall.
Department officials responded that they are following a Canada-backed 2016 declaration at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit, which asked countries to support whichever groups can have the most impact on the ground.
But MPs pushed back on the idea that the Canadian Red Cross and its affiliates on the ground are best-positioned to respond.
They noted that Ottawa already supports Canadian non-governmental organizations that have been operating for years in war-torn Syria, where Red Cross branches have had limited access.
The Humanitarian Coalition, a group that includes 12 major charities, has been part of past government donation-matching.
Richard Morgan, the group’s head, said it made sense for Ottawa to partner with the Red Cross for an immediate response. But he noted that all 12 members of his coalition, which include Oxfam and Islamic Relief, have operated across Syria for more than a decade.
“The deeply local capacity of our members is underappreciated by Global Affairs, and we believe actually is a resource that the government should be tapping into,” he told the committee.
“There are many places where the Red Cross is not able to access, that many of our members are able to deliver. That local capacity in all regions of Syria is a good example of that.”
A week after two major earthquakes and hundreds of aftershocks, the death toll has risen over 35,000. Officials said 21 million people have been affected, many of them in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
Morgan said there is a massive need to house, educate and heal people who have lost their homes, and more buildings are likely to collapse.
He noted that other rich countries to a better job of leveraging philanthropy to respond to humanitarian crises.
“Government and private funding to date has been inadequate,” Morgan said. “A much more significant response from Canada and the global community is urgently required.”
Salewicz added that the initial $10 million matching promise was based on existing budgets the department could pull from, and that the timeline for donation was intentionally tight, from Feb. 6 to 22, because charities say that helps prompt people to open their wallets.
He testified that the department has moved away from open-ended donation matching funds, as these were hard to budget for and could lead to months-long delays in the delivery of Canadian aid.
Salewicz said Ottawa can still top up the fund.
But he said he could not say whether this spring’s federal budget will allocate more funding to respond to the situation in Turkey and Syria.
A senior official responsible for Canadian policy in the Middle East, Jess Dutton, said all of Canada’s sanctions on Syria already include exemptions for humanitarian aid, and that anyone encountering an issue delivering help should contact the department.
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